Dortmund host Hannover with an eye to reclaiming top spot in the league table, while Hertha Berlin and Gladbach look to stay on track for European qualification.
Dortmund ready for Hannover challenge
Dortmund are not infallible, as Borussia Mönchengladbach demonstrated last matchday — and this will be of some comfort to Hannover 96 when they visit Signal Iduna Park this Saturday. The bad news is that Hannover’s wins over Dortmund in the last 10 years amount to two, and H96 have kept only one clean sheet in 39 encounters.
It does not help that Hannover’s home-vs-away form is as lopsided as ever. Hannover’s home record this season is second only to title-contenders Leverkusen; but on the road, Mirko Slomka’s side have yet to score a goal, much less pull off the win. And against Dortmund, the odds seem more stacked than ever. Gladbach were able to down Dortmund 2-0 by playing two banks of four and hitting BVB on the counter. But if Hannover hope to recreate this scenario, they will need defensive discipline as well as quick, decisive forwards. Hannover have had a hard time breaking down well-organized teams in the past, and Dortmund on a good day are the epitome of that.
The laws of irony may suggest a surprise result for the visitors. But all things considered, Dortmund look ready to step over Hannover en route to reasserting themselves at the top of the pecking order.
Of course, the result is not so completely forgone. Injuries have proven a tough challenge for Dortmund this season, as Ilkay Gündogan’s absence left Dortmund’s build-up play lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. The good news for Klopp this time around is that Marco Reus, Nuri Sahin, and super-sub Jonas Hofmann are all fit to play again. Sven Bender and Marcel Schmelzer are still doubtful. Mats Hummels remains suspended, though it’s debatable how much the center-back will be missed, given his somewhat indifferent form of late.
Klopp will also have to take into account Dortmund’s Champions League match against Arsenal away on Tuesday. Last week’s international break was timely, as it allowed some breathing space for Dortmund’s players to recuperate. But now it’s right back to the races, and how Dortmund handles this upcoming week may be revealing for their fortunes the rest of this season.
The title race is fierce this year, between Leverkusen’s proliferate form and Guardiola’s Bayern strategy. But Dortmund, despite their injury woes, remain a force to contend with. And should Mainz pull off a surprise at the Allianz, Dortmund could reclaim their number one spot with a win over Hannover.
Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller – Durm, Sokratis, Subotic, Grosskreutz – Sahin, Mkhitaryan – Hofmann, Aubameyang, Reus – Lewandowski
Hannover 96: Zieler – Sakai, Marcelo, Schulz, Pocognoli – Stindl, Sane, Andreasen, Huszti – Bittencourt, Sobiech
Dortmund 2-0 Hannover
A “battle of equals” await Hertha and Gladbach
Saturday sees Hertha host Gladbach in a matryoshka-like match of stories within stories. Lucien Favre’s side currently sit 4th in the table, leading a pack of European hopefuls — which includes newly-promoted Hertha Berlin.
Jos Luhukay has built something of a reputation as a rebuilding and promotion specialist. The Dutch manager took Gladbach to the Bundesliga in 2007/08, Augsburg in 2010/11, and Hertha Berlin in 2012/13. Now Luhukay has a chance to prove that he can create not only Bundesliga-worthy teams but true Bundesliga contenders. This is something that his counterpart Lucien Favre has done. Since being fired by Hertha in 2009, Favre has turned a bottom-of-the-table Gladbach into perennial European hopefuls. At the Olympiastadion on Saturday, Gladbach will be out to underscore this position.
Both coaches have something at stake here, as each faces his old employer in a clash colored by personal history. “Going back’s not as strange as it was a couple of years ago,” said Lucien Favre, however. Meanwhile Luhukay, despite the home advantage, considers this to be a “battle of equals.”
And speaking of personal history, this fixture could be the first professional clash between brothers (and rivals) Ronny and Raffael. The elder of the two, Raffael had enjoyed a prolific stint at Hertha Berlin between 2008 and 2012, scoring 23 goals in 110 appearances. Ronny now follows in his brother’s footsteps; the team’s creative engine in midfield, Ronny fired Hertha to the top of the 2.Bundesliga last season with 18 goals and 11 assists. And despite a diminished role in the team this season, his eye for scoring remains undimmed with three goals already to his name.
Hertha have enjoyed a strong Bundesliga start and currently hold one of the better home records: three wins with 10 goals scored and three conceded. Gladbach meanwhile have had a hard time on the road this season, picking up only one point in four matches. But two of the teams they have faced away were Bayern and Leverkusen — and for all their merits, Hertha are not of the same calibre.
Given Max Kruse’s splendid form and Gladbach’s overall strengths, this visit to the Olympiastadion could produce the Foals’ first three-point haul on the road.
Hertha Berlin: Kraft – Pekarik, Lustenberger, Langkamp, Van den Bergh – Hosogai, Skjelbred – Allagui, Ben-Hatira, Schulz – Ramos
Borussia Mönchengladbach: Ter Stegen – Jantschke, Stranzl, Brouwers, Wendt – Kramer, Xhaka – Herrmann, Arango – Raffael, Kruse
Hertha 1-2 Gladbach
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga…
Heavyweight-favorites Bayern Munich host a tactically-astute Mainz 05, while Schalke visit rock-bottom Eintracht Braunschweig. And just one place above Braunschweig in the table, SC Freiburg continue their search for that elusive first win at Werder Bremen.
A clash between Eintracht Frankfurt and FC Nuremberg rounds off the Saturday morning action. Sunday sees a rejuvenated Stuttgart at Hamburg, and finally Augsburg host Wolfsburg for the final match of Matchday 9.